It’s a wild time to be writing about Billie Eilish, considering she’s in the middle of her campaign of world domination. It’s for good reason: her debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is a stone-cold classic.
Eilish’s story is somewhat uncommon these days for a pop star. All of the songs on her debut were written with her older brother, Finneas, and recorded in his bedroom in their childhood home - the same way her runaway hit “Ocean Eyes” was before it exploded on the charts in 2016. For a song about intense longing sung by a then 14-year old, it showed she possessed a talent far beyond her years.
The songs on When We All Fall Asleep all possess a dark undercurrent. The pulsating bass of "Bad Guy" and the song’s accelerating tempo makes it feel like there’s something sinister around the corner, but it never quite explodes. The most obvious comparison is the same sort of intense propulsion of a Fiona Apple song, but the song turns into a lurching spoken piece in its second half. It’s an incredible subversion of a pop song and sets the tone for a wild ride of a record.
“Xanny” has an appropriate title - it is a beautiful Beatlesesque piano ballad filtered through an Alprazolam haze, while “You Should See Me in a Crown” flips the script again - it’s dominated by a trap beat with Eilish’s serious-as-hell delivery of “You should see me in a crown/Your silence is my favorite sound/Watch me make 'em bow/One by one by, one/One by one by (one).” That world domination claim was not a bit.
Plenty of attention has been given to “Bury a Friend,” and it’s for good reason. It’s simply one of the most purely terrifying songs to become a hit in recent memory. The dense, dry synth hits and Eilish’s voice - which seems to be getting smaller and more processed as the track continues - is punctuated by screeching sound effects and the unforgettable line: “I wanna end me.”
There are endless turns to make in the maze of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Billie Eilish has made a hell of a shape-shifting debut. It’s deeply weird, provocative and incredibly fully formed. She’s an accomplished artist already at 17 that doesn’t think outside the box - she straight up stomped on it. Her upside is limitless. Don’t sleep on this record.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.